Developing supportive spaces for researcher communities #researchspaces

The Vitae day on spaces for researchers was a really interesting event. The morning was spent hearing about the Hive at Sussex. This is a dedicated researcher space and one of the things it helped me understand is that it isn’t so much the space itself but what you do with it and the people involved in it. The Hive is swipe card access (swipe card access seems to be very important for these researcher spaces as it gives control and exclusivity) but otherwise is a fairly simple space with sofas, computers and laptop spaces. On the surface it doesn’t seem like anything special but the community that has built up around it, in no small part due the partnership with Sage, seems like a vital part of the researcher’s experience.

Sussex is working in partnership with Sage (who apparently want to adopt more universities …). Sussex get funding for things like the Hive Scholars and Sage in return get the opportunity for feedback from researchers far richer than anything they could get from surveys and other traditional research methods.

The Hive scholars are three researcher’s who receive a bursary for 6 hours work a week. They all work on things to promote the hive, utilising social media to great effect. Something they said echoed with what we did at Cass – using a variety of methods that interlink to get maximum liaison opportunities. The scholars reported how the Hive enriched the research community by providing a hub which allowed informal social events as well as more formal events to take place. These events then meant people who may have been doing similar research in different departments met and exchanged ideas. It is easy for researchers to be silo-ed but the library is a centre for all of them and therefore a sensible place for these hubs to be located.

A couple of great ideas they had were Shut up and write! (re

 

searchers meet in a cafe, have a chat then concentrate for a set period of time and then have another break) and advice written on the glass walls by more experienced researchers for new ones at the welcome event including “Read A lot”.

2012-12-13 12.55.572012-12-13 12.56.15

 

In the afternoon session we had a talk by Dawn Duke, Researcher Training and Development Officer, about the SPLASH area at Surrey and writing boot camps they set up to encourage researchers. One was a full on boot camp with people telling people off for not working and things, this was for full time Phd students because they identified a big problem with procrastination and that it usually had a cause. The bootcamp helped people identify causes, suppo

Finally we heard from Fiona Colligan, Warwick Research Exchange about how Warwick has introduced somethin

g akin to online dating for researchers called Research Match this built on similar set ups to the

Hive but has broken into some groups which didn’t interact so much with the physical space for examrt each other and break through the procrastination problem in spaces that suited them so if they needed quiet that was available but if they wanted to collaborate that was available. Surrey also identified a few issues about completion so they organised a retreat for part-time and distance students. This was more relaxed than the bootcamp. One thing the library did was source a collection of thesis so students who may not have seen a UK thesis before were able to see what this was. Two senior academics also stayed at the retreat for the whole weekend (students stayed on site for the weekend).

ple people in the hard sciences who have their own networks in labs etc but they have signed up to research match in large numbers. This sort of innovation really seems to come out of physical spaces.

By the end of the day I really felt encouraged to think beyond physical spaces for ideas that the library can be central to in the support of the researchers but also confirmed that a physical space dedicated to researchers, ideally controlled by swipe card, is a worthwhile idea but needs to be part of something bigger in terms of collaboration and student involvement. A room with a sofa and computers labelled “researcher’s space” isn’t enough.

I have stroyfied some of the tweets from the day below:

  1. Vitae_SE_Hub
    Hearing about the Sussex Hive, Surrey’s SPLASH and

    the Warwick Research Exchange. #researchspace

  2. sussexreshive
    The hive scholars are presenting at the ‘developing supportive spaces for research communities’ event in the library today #researchspace
  3. sussexreshive
    Looking forward to sharing our experiences as scholars and hearing about how other libraries support researchers #researchspace
  4. melon_h
    Really interesting to here from Joanna Ball about collaboration with SAGE over the Hive #researchspace
  5. sussexreshive
    Now hearing from Patrick Brindle from SAGE about how they benefit from their relationship with the Hive. #researchspace
  6. sussexreshive
    Patrick brindle: open access could potentially change everything for publishers #researchspace
  7. melon_h
    Patrick Brindle from Sage now talking about what the Hive does for SAGE #researchspace
  8. robwannerton
    Really interesting analogy of 92 Election on where information is being drawn from to make decisions in publishing #researchspace
  9. sussexreshive
    Patrick Brindle: a more meaningful relationship with researchers through the hive that gives better insight than surveys #researchspace
  10. melon_h
    value of Hive means that Sage don’t rely on polls and get deeper relationship and understanding with library and researchers #researchspace
  11. melon_h
    Really interesting hearing the hive scholars discussing the importance of networking as part of he Hive #researchspace
  12. joanna_ball
    Welcome event in @sussexreshive : five things I wish I’d known in my first year as a doctoral student #researchspace
  13. joanna_ball
    Hive Scholars: Shut up and Write events provide opportunity for researchers at all levels to share experiences. #researchspace
  14. BrindlePatrick
    Really like Sussex Hive #researchspace idea of ‘Shut Up and Write!’ sessions for @phd students overcoming writer’s block.
  15. sussexreshive
    Took participants on tours over lunch, people seem inspired by hive as both space and community #researchspace
  16. sussexreshive
    Now hearing from SPLASH at university of surrey – they offer intensive writing courses for researchers #researchspace
  17. sussexreshive
    SPLASH publication boot camp – 1 week from notes to first draft with ‘drill sergeants’ stopping procrastination and advising #researchspace
  18. sussexreshive
    This meant that researchers could talk through problems as thy arose. Supporting creative process of writing #researchspace
  19. sussexreshive
    This is inspiring, I want to go to a publication boot camp! #researchspace
  20. sussexreshive
    SPLASH at Surrey also ran a thesis writing retreat over a weekend aimed at part timers struggling to complete #researchspace
  21. sussexreshive
    They made a collection of 75 theses available at the retreat to give people a better idea of completion – this is so useful #researchspace
  22. sussexreshive
    The retreat gave the feeling of being ‘locked up’, short 15 min training sessions, one on one advice and a social function #researchspace
  23. sussexreshive
    Procrastination is never just procrastination – underlying cause #researchspace
  24. sussexreshive
    There were 900 research led events in the research exchange at Warwick in 2011-2012 !!! #researchspace
  25. sussexreshive
    How can a space facilitate interdisciplinary collaboration amongst researchers? #researchspace
  26. sussexreshive
    Warwick run an online ‘research match’ service matching research interests for collaboration. Amazing. #researchspace
  27. sussexreshive
    This has allowed new research networks and collaborations to emerge #researchspace
  28. BrindlePatrick
    RT @sussexreshive: Warwick run an online ‘research match’ service matching research interests for collaboration. Amazing. #researchspace
  29. pretty_curious
    Effective use of PGR ambassadors also works well to create community and peer support #researchspace
  30. pretty_curious
    But possibly you need some dedicated space to provide focus for events and study space that appeals to researchers #researchspace
  31. sussexreshive
    Great day, loads to think about and lots of ideas for future events and collaborations #researchspace

It Always Rains on Sunday (1947)

When most people think of Ealing Studios they think of the comedies – Whisky Galore!, Passport to Pimilico and so on. Very few would think of Film Noir but that the best description of It Always Rains on Sunday (dir. Robert Hamer, 1947). It features a woman, Rose Sandigate, (Googie Withers) who helps her former lover, Tommy Swann (John McCallum)  who has escaped from prison, thus jeopardising her family life because of her sexual desires and a fair amount of shadowy shots. So far so noir but this is British Noir. It isn’t about glamour. Set in and around Bethnal Green, much of the action takes place in Petticoat Lane and gives a realist snapshot of post-war Britain, cheese rations and blackout material included. It Always Rains on Sunday

The action all takes place on one Sunday (which as the title suggests is a rainy one) and begins with a normal family waking up and going about their business, with a fair amount of bickering. Little do they know that the matriarch’s past is about to come back to shatter their peace. At the start it appears that there are several disjointed storylines – the escaped convict, the unhappily married woman, her step-daughters’ love lives, the local criminal networks and the unfaithful band leader. Hamer takes these storylines and weaves them into a story that although complex is brilliantly executed and brings to the fore Jack Warner as Detective Sergeant Fothergill who is occupied trying to find Tommy Swann and also one by one arresting the gang of crooks. Largely through their own incompetence.

The film culminates with a very good chase sequence which acts like a needle, sewing up all the loose ends until the film comes to a bleak and real ending, much more akin to the Kitchen Sink dramas of the late fifties and sixties than the Ealing comedies we know.

There are several recognisable Ealing comedy moments including the neighbour disturbing Rose whilst she smuggles Tommy into her house to discuss the meat they are each having for Sunday lunch or the fact the central gang of crooks have bungled a warehouse raid and ended up with a truck load of Roller Skates.

This surprising film deserves to takes its place next to the finest post-war British films.

Leaving a job I love

“You get a strange feeling when you’re about to leave a place, I told him, like you’ll not only miss the people you love but you’ll miss the person you are now at this time and this place, because you’ll never be this way ever again.”
― Azar NafisiReading Lolita in Tehran

This quote pretty much sums up how I am feeling today as I leave my post as Subject Librarian at Cass Business School, City University. I love this job, I love the people here and I love the life I have had whilst working here. Yes, I even like the commute.

Obviously if our lunches were like this we probably wouldn’t have laughed so much.

There is so much I will miss from my time here. This is probably best characterized by the laughing lunches – so often laughing so much we cried at topics as varied as Benedict Cumberbatch, board games representing people, people’s personal yoghurt eating habits and on more than one occasion my eventful love life. In fact even on the days when I felt a bit heartbroken my colleagues have, without fail, made me laugh with kind gestures and jokes. For example Sam’s note on my desk after another dating drama or Chris’s theories that I have been dating a series of spies (it makes sense when he says it).

The same sense of camadarie also made it so much easier for me to return to work after my jaw surgery as did the support of my great manager.

Every body I have worked with is excellent – I daren’t start naming people as I’d probably forget someone and lose a friend!

But it’s not just the people I work with but also the job itself, I have had such great opportunities to be innovative, to build on existing skills and develop new ones. Not least with the great MA in Academic Practice Programme. The staff and students in the school are also brilliant. It has been great to work with such motivated people.

I am not just leaving a job or the people but a chapter of my life that really started at the job before this in Middlesex Street near Liverpool Street. Until then I’d worked 5 minutes from where I lived for 9 years with many of the same people. Being the new girl was a shock but now I’ve done it twice in less than 3 years (soon to be three times) I can assure anybody who is worried about moving on because of meeting new people that it isn’t that bad. A bright smile and being yourself is the key (but some people might need to tone themselves down at first). Also don’t worry about leaving people behind – you’ll keep in touch with people if you want to. I’ve got close friends from every job I have ever done.

Working in central London is amazing and this week as I’ve walked around and met with friends all over I have really appreciated it. My walk to work took me through Borough market, past the Golden Hind, the Globe theatre, Tate Modern, Over the Millenium Bridge, past St Pauls and through the Barbican – what a walk! I will miss being in the greatest city in the world. The pay off from commuting every day is that I get the best of both worlds – I live in the prettiest town, am 10 minutes from the sea but have access to London at the drop of a hat. I’ll still get a bit of it as I travel to Surrey and will come into town for the BFI and other delights but I will miss being here so much.

My new job as Head of Academic Liaison at Royal Holloway is truly my ideal job. I can’t wait to start and get into it. I’m looking forward to working with a wonderful team. I’ll be working in a beautiful university and the next chapter of my life will begin. I hope it will be as happy as the last one but right now I know I will never be the person I am right here right now ever again and that makes me a bit sad.

Returning to the quote at the start I am who I am because of the people who I have met, who have been my friends and who have challenged me, the jobs I have done and the experiences I have had up to now. The people I meet in the future and the jobs I do will change me more but hopefully future me will be a credit to present me.

We all take different paths in life, but no matter where we go, we take a little of each other everyhwere.
― Tim McGraw

LILAC12 – a (not so) quick report #LILAC12

Having written a post about what it was like to present at LILAC I wanted to write up the conference itself (well the bits I attended).

Keynote 1 – Megan Oakleaf

Keynote 2 – Lord Puttnam of Queensgate, C.B.E.

Libguides tips and tricks: thinking outside the box – Eleanora Dubicki, Susan Gardner & Louise Gordon 

Playing Games and growing trees  Andrew Walsh Huddersfield @andywalsh999

Mobile technology and information literacy instruction: the McGill Library Experience. Maria Savova, Robin Canuel and Chad Crichton

Information literacy through inquiry: using problem-based learning in information literacy instruction Alan Carbery

Glasgow University
Glasgow – the conference wasn’t in this bit though!

Overview

I got a lot from attending. It was great to meet other librarians from across the world (there were lots of international delegates) and meet many faces from Twitter. I am really lucky to work somewhere that encourages us to attend conferences. It is such a positive experience and one I think is vital for us and our institution to evolve and stay ahead of the game. LILAC is  a big conference (by UK standards), but not so big that it feels overwhelming. Each day there was a keynote and then parallel sessions which meant there were a lot of things to choose from.

Glasgow was a nice place to visit and we did appreciate the free Caramel Log in our goody bags.

All the presentations that are available are here.

Keynote 1 – Megan Oakleaf

Play the ace: assessing, communicating and expanding the institutional impact of information literacy.
Megan’s impressive keynote looked at how it is important to demonstrate the value of the academic library to universities and how IL can be used to do this. She is the author of a US report: Value of Academic Libraries
Some points she made included:
  • Everyone loves library but don’t want to pay for it.
  • Focus on what collection enables people to do.
  • It is a good idea to define outcomes (learning outcomes) of what institution needs and wants. Could include employability, student retention.
  • What leads students to come to an institution? In US library second most impactful building. (learning spaces are first).
  • At Minnesota library instruction increases chance of re-enrolment year on year.
  • Acrl information literacy competency standards in higher education.
We did a great exercise where we used a grid called the Instruction Impact Map with Campus Needs, Goals and outcomes down one side and a list of things we do int he library along the top i.e. Tutorials, reference service etc. We then took one of the columns and rated how well it impacted on the campus need. This really made us think how we could connect the two things and really demonstrate how important what we do is.
Megan then suggested collecting evidence to back up our claims on the impact of our work making two important points:
  •  Authentic, integrated performance assessments.
  • Not surveys etc

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Libguides tips and tricks: thinking outside the box – Eleanora Dubicki, Susan Gardner & Louise Gordon (@louiselib)

The workshop delivered on Libguides was really useful. The major thing I took from it was the use of Libguides Polls.
Polls in Libguides
The poll before completion.
The results of the poll.
An example of which was used at the start of the session to see how many people in the session were using it and what we wanted out of the workshop.
The session was run round a guide: http://libguides.lmu.edu/lilac2012
We already use them at City but I hadn’t really thought of using them to base a whole session around but by using things like the polling and wallwasher they could be really interactive tools in our teaching as well as great support tools.

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Keynote 2 – Lord Puttnam of Queensgate, C.B.E.

I have to confess to having a bit of a fan girl moment when I saw Lord Puttnam as with my film-lover hat on I think he is an incredibly important figure in the British film industry. I now realise he is also an powerful voice in the world of Education two examples of his work are:
  • Founded future lab.
  • Sits on house communications committe.
The overarching theme of his speech was that what may seem radical to us now will not be in the future that People expect new form of relationship with world around them now. He gave several examples:
  •  Uni of Sunderland 24/7 opening radical in 1997. As was drinking coffee in library – keyboards so cheap irrelevant.
  • Www is just a click away.
  • Importance of libraries and schools.
  • Refreshing to see how quickly racists etc are brought to order on twitter.
  • Librarians help people steer towards right information.
  • Talked about unpredictability of what is to come I.e. Facebook buying instagram
  • Talked about the fact his parents would have thought 3 careers was bizarre but he can imagine his grandchildren having 6.
  • Huge levels of competition and complexity – unique challenges for us as educators.
The point that most people were buzzing about afterwards was:
Many currently in education will work with voice activated technology in working lives.
This means we will need a pedagogy to work with voice activated tech … Importance of voice and thinking. Keyboard skills will still be useful but not as important. Research and development is not put into keyboards. Money is in voice recognition both spending on research and in profit.
Apple, google and amazon all using this technology so children born today will think it is the norm. Essentially we will be working differently. Oracy (?) will be important. Teachers will have to be better at listening and students better at talking
and so strong spoken language skills will need to be developed. He said this isn’t that new, Aristotle’s The Art of Rhetoric is still a best seller but we will need to structure thought differently it requires students talk more but teachers less. 1975 Bullock report suggested teachers were so long winded pupils had 20 secs each to talk.
Currently there is disparity between how people behave with tech at home and how it is used in classroom. For example a surgeon from 1912 couldn’t work today. A teacher could because we aren’t using enough technology in classroom.
Need to understand students world, how they relate to it and we need to be aware of problems surrounding adopting technology i.e. digitising old practices isn’t the way forward. We need to consider what advances an entire digital pedagogy could be like. It is about digital not digitising.
He discussed the need for an undisputed education of women. World class education system underpins world class health and social system. Will not work other way round.
He ended with a quote from Stuart Brand “We are gods so we better start getting good at it”
There was then a great Q&A session:

Q: French children don’t learn to read and write until later. They develop oral and reasoning skills first.   – what about it?
A: Need to look at other countries. If you find yourself saying “this is the way we do it” stop doing it that way.
Q: Exam system doesn’t reflect digital technology.  IB allows it more than A levels with large piece of work.
A: most useful thing medical world could do is clone librarians as they have 19th century assessment process. It is out of step with technology and teaching. Lord Puttnam thinks International Baccalaureate is the way forward.
He then talked about the role of librarians:
  • Not what we do but branding is a problem.
  • Breadth width and importance of what we do needs to be promoted by us and others.
  • We aren’t gatekeepers.
  • Make sure title librarian isn’t trapped.
  • British library has done it brilliantly. It is vital and important.
Q: Cost question of technology.
A: Things you can’t afford not to have. If you are seriously concerned about child’s future you will forgo things to get them. Cost of slates in 19th century was crippling for a family but they did it. Education can’t be allowed to become unaffordable. TES – cheaper for them to buy £100 tablet and send it to all subscribers than the print copy as print costs £100 a year. Got to make tech vital so saying not do it because of cost is not relevant. IPad is as important as slate David Lloyd George learnt to write his name on.
Q: Issue around accent etc for google voice (and all voice technology)
A: technology will improve and be more forgiving. Recalling dictation from work in advertising. He learnt how to dictate a letter. You have to think in a particular way to dictate a letter.
Matrix of literacies
Being articulate is a life skill.
Q: Distance …
A: Cisco telepresence system on west coast of Ireland. He does lectures from home. 5 universities. Notion of distance is not relevant any more.

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Playing Games and growing trees  Andrew Walsh Huddersfield @andywalsh999

Lemontree Cake
Lemontree gave away cake on a stick

This session really appealed to me as I am interested in the gamification of learning. Huddersfield have done a lot of work on the connection between library use and student achievement. One of their findings was that the physical library didn’t make a difference. This meant they wanted more serious use from students who came in for social reasons by putting a game over top of library usage.

You can view the game here
There is also more information here.
 The game connects with Facebook and a lot of the social interaction is in Facebook. Once registered you don’t have to go on to lemon tree you can see what you are doing in Facebook.
As always data protection is an issue so they make sure people are happy to share data I.e. what books you borrow and under settings you can turn off what information is shared.
One of the key benefits appeared to be that it can be used to see what other people from courses found useful.
As is often the case as interesting as the game looks the thing that stuck with me (as I doubt we would be going down the game line) was the promotion suggestions:
  • Little cards including things like “playing the library”
  • No big worthy things
  • Low key and fun
  • One poster
  • Messages that appear on plasma screens
  • Has to be fun and inviting
  • Cards are being scattered
  • Put it in high demand books
  • Also put codes to reward in low use books.

Details of the presentation are here:

Http://eprints.hud.ac.uk/13125/

Mobile technology and information literacy instruction: the McGill Library Experience. Maria Savova, Robin Canuel and Chad Crichton

McGill library from the palm of your hand – delivered to librarians as wells as students and faculty
There were several good points made to be aware of when looking at the use and implementation of mobile technologies.
  • Have to establish what is possible on different ereaders etc (wifi or 3G or not)
  • Ezproxy helps use on mobile devices
  • Challenges – it isn’t clear from the catalogue if book can be downloaded
  • Also availability – can’t tell if someone has downloaded it already (some limits to number of downloads)
  • Ebsco – need to download PDF for use offline.
  • Problem PDF is a picture not text. Doesn’t work well on ereaders.
  • Reflowable text – ePub, amazon azw kindle format, mobipocket reader format – universal eBook Reader for PDAs
  • Science direct allows you to convert into ePub /Mobipocket
  • Calibre allows you to change formats (as long as not protected by digital rights)
  • Different devices have different structures i.e. file structure in Android is different to Apple.
New ways of searching for information
  • Voice search –
    Most mobile devices have voice connectivity
    Shazam / soundhound technology – biologists use it by capturing birdsong and identifying birds
  • Visual search – Google goggles – can not only identify things in images but also if you take pic of an image it will find other references to the image (for example a picture of a painting)
  • Context specific – Location aware search results – world cat mobile use it. Computer finder.
  • Barcodes/QR codes -QR codes – super easy to implement.
  • Augmented reality – point camera at reality around you, brings information in around you. Layar app – information about our campus, direct where,how to get to library.

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Information literacy through inquiry: using problem-based learning in information literacy instruction Alan Carbery

This presentation was probably the unexpected highlight of the conference. Unfortunately I was so gripped I forgot to make notes. This is the presentation:
I have used PBL a lot in my previous work  but not so much recently. Alan’s presentation inspired me to think about how I could use it in the future again.

Presenting at LILAC 2012

This year was not only my first LILAC but also my first solo presentation at a major library conference. I am pleased to say both attending and presenting are experiences I look forward to repeating.

Despite the fact that anybody who knows me knows I can hardly be described as shy and have never shied away from public speaking or giving  presentations I was nervous. I have delivered presentations to groups of 300+ but presenting at LILAC was by far the most nervous I have been before an event. I think this was probably because I was delivering a presentation to my peers. People I respect, who know a lot about Information Literacy and who all might have thought the “innovative” idea I was presenting was in fact old hat.

Before I get on to the presentation itself I’ll explain a bit about the process that I went through to get there. LILAC put out a call for papers in the Autumn with the themes for the conference. This year they were:

We welcome  proposals which address one or more of this year’s conference themes:

  • IL and the digital future
  • IL research
  • Supporting the research community
  • Transitions: from School through to Higher Education
  • IL and employability
  • Active learning and creative pedagogical approaches

We’ve been doing a lot of work at Cass on IL and employability so I instantly thought this would be a good strand for a presentation. However … the best idea wasn’t mine! So I asked my lovely colleague Carolyn Smith if she minded me talking about our Cass Certification programme as it was her idea. Luckily she said yes. I wasn’t entirely sure where to begin  with my abstract so I looked up some previous year’s and realised that there is a lot of variety in styles, some heavily referenced and some not so much.

I wrote a short abstract of 300 words (for a 30 minute presentation) which my manager and Carolyn both read and suggested a couple of tweaks. Then I submitted it and waited. I wasn’t sure I’d done it right so was very surprised when I received an email saying it had been accepted on provision that I made a couple of revisions. These were basically adding a bit more about why it was innovative and different and taking out some background.

So, I resubmitted and then forgot about it. April seemed a long way off in December but suddenly it was the last week in March and I need to get something done so I gathered all my points together and started working on a Prezi. Prezi really suits my way of thinking as I am quite a visual person and I like the way it works you through a thought process. For me it works a bit like a mindmap which I then reorder to make sense to other people (I hope).

So presentation done, I just had to make a few notes on Evernote so I could easily refer to them. These were basically statistics and a few points I though I must make.

I was ready to go! I was lucky I could get my session over with on the first day. At LILAC they run several sessions at once so people sign up for the ones they are interested in meaning there is a lot of variety to choose from. I had a good turnout and it was nice to see some familiar faces in the audience.

My main worry beforehand was I had misjudged the content and that it would all be over in 5 minutes or I would rush the end because I had no time and that would have been a bit awkward either way. I don’t like to over rehearse but I had mentally run through it a couple of time and in the end was pretty much on time. I had parts of the presentation I could have rushed or taken longer to talk about if I felt timings were out but it was ok and I had time for several questions which was good as it made me think about how library certification might work elsewhere.

This was a really good experience and something I hope to repeat again. I’d really recommend submitting papers and giving presentations to anybody. The worst is you won’t get accepted but there’s a good chance you will. I am very lucky to have very supportive colleagues and manager who encourage us to try to apply for conferences and submit papers.

This is a link to the presentation.

Meet Me in St Louis (1944)

Meet Me in St. Louis
Meet Me in St. Louis (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

*Contains Spoilers*

I remembered Meet Me in St Louis as a nice film with Judy Garland and that song about a trolley. It is a nice film with Judy Garland and it does have The Trolley Song (Clang, clang, clang goes the trolley. Ding, Ding, Ding goes the bell. Zing, zing, zing went my heartstrings as we started for Huntington Dell. – try getting that out of your head now) but it is far far funnier than I had any recollection of. Directed by Vincente Minnelli Meet Me In St Louis is set at the time of the Lousianna Purchase Exposition’s World Fair coming to St Louis, Missouri.

The story centres around the Smith family and predominantly the eldest girls’ desire to get married. Esther (Judy Garland) and Rose (Lucille Bremer) Smith are the original rules girls. They yearn for romance and fantasise over the objects of their affections. Plotting to get their men:

Rose: Oh, Es, isn’t he simply enchanting? And so mature!

Esther: Well, how did it happen? Where did you meet?

Rose: I was coming out of the shop and he was coming in. We bumped into each other!

Esther: Accidentally?

Rose: Almost!

But then feigning indifference when Warren (Robert Sully) phones in the much anticipated long distance phone call which is supposed to contain a proposal to Rose.

Rose follows the rules to the letter:

Warren: Wait, Rose! We still have… 36 more seconds!

Rose: I have an engagement. I think I can hear Joe’s voice, now?

Charlotte York from Sex and The City couldn’t have played the game better (maybe when it is referred to in the first SATC film there is more to it than Jennifer Hudson’s character coming from there).

I’m not sure 1944 audiences would have found all the same jokes funny but most don’t date, partly due to the historical setting of the film. I expect the 1944 audience also must have thought a small girl, Tootie (Margaret O’Brien), killing off her dolls and burying them in the cemetery was a little bonkers. When she decapitates the snowmen it is also all a bit surreal, but even disturbed children are hilarious in this film and there are so many one liners and quips that we laughed throughout.

Plot wise this is largely about the elder sisters falling in love whilst making comments on family and home. Being made in 1944 I can’t help but wonder what place in America’s official wartime narrative it had. I guess comedy boosted morale and there is some social commentary on the family, largely the role of the father or rather the lack of role of the father. Poor Alonso Smith (Leon Ames) is kept in the dark about pretty much everything his family does, he might as well be away. Grandpa (Harry Davenport) puts it well “Your papa’s not supposed to know. It’s enough we’re letting him work hard every day to support the whole flock of us. He can’t have everything”

Of course it is the songs which get in your head both the Trolley Song and the eponymous Meet Me In St Louis are catchy. The Trolley Song and Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas give Judy Garland the chance of two big solos but there is none of the star posturing you might expect. There are other solo songs, including Over the Banister which suggests the domestic confines Esther feels while looking at the promise of love with the boy next door. Early on Esther is shown as a modern woman in the exchange with Rose:

Esther: I’m going to let John Truett kiss me tonight.
Rose: Esther Smith.
Esther: Well, if we’re going to get married, I may as well start it.
Rose: Nice girls don’t let men kiss them until after they’re engaged. Men don’t want the bloom rubbed off.
Esther: Personally, I think I have too much bloom. Maybe that’s the trouble with me.

When Judy Garland sings she is incredible and floors the rest of the cast but it isn’t entirely about her, Tootie and Agnes (Joan Carroll) supply most of the comedy with Tootie frequently stealing the show.

The historical setting of the film is interesting, allowing not only an escape from the realities of war but also because it is full of the folklore of St Louis in the songs and the scenes such as the throwing of flour on Halloween. However whilst it feels very different to the films set in 1944 it is worth remembering that it is only 40 years after the world fair. There is a nod to the speed the US has developed.

Oh and in case you are wondering whether it is Louis sounding like Lewes or Louis sounding like Louie then Tootie thinks she has the answer (she is the only one who thinks this):

Mr. Neely the Iceman: Well, I got a cousin who spells it the same way, and we call him “Louie”.

Tootie : He’s isn’t a city though, is he?

Mr. Neely the Iceman: No…

Tootie: Is he a saint?

Mr. Neely the Iceman: Uh, no.

Tootie: Then there’s no comparison.

If you want to be cheered up, have a laugh and aren’t too worried about the plot then this is the film for you.

Meet me in St. Louis, Louis,
Meet me at the Fair
Don’t tell me the lights are shining
Anyplace but there

Confirmation

I don’t usually post especially personal things on this blog but I think this is worth breaking the rules for … yesterday I was confirmed at church. This was a lovely service and meant a lot to me. Especially as so many people were able to be there to support me. I generally think my faith is my concern and not something to foist on others so i imagine some of my friends were a bit surprised when I invited them but  they didn’t let on.

Confirmation is essentially about confirming the promises my parents and godparents made for me as a child and making a public declaration of my faith. Part of the service was to read a testimonial, mine is below and hopefully explains in some way my journey to being confirmed.

I have always believed in God, something bigger than the physical world but maybe I didn’t realise that I had a faith. As a small child I went to church quite regularly, Sunday school and high days and holidays with my mum but at some point we stopped going. Apparently this was because the Sunday school was full of boys and I was the only girl. Oh, the irony that I stopped going to church because there were only boys my age!

I did go back as a Brownie and Guide for church parade. What appeared to be keenness at getting there first had more to do with the promise of carrying the flag than religious fervour (I’ve always enjoyed the lead role in things!)

As a teen and a young adult I was interested in the spiritual side of life, talking to people about their beliefs and reading about different religions. This interest helped me through some difficult times, along with my family and friends, many of whom are here today but church itself always seemed uninviting. It was a place where everyone else knew each other but they didn’t want to know anyone new. It also struck me there was a lot of being told what to think and do. I am not very good at being told what to think and do.

Last year was a year of highs and lows. The lowest point without a doubt having to have two lots of jaw surgery but the highs included coming on the Alpha course with my wonderful friend Claire.

Ever since we met 16 years ago We have spent many nights in the pub discussing religions, where are own feelings drew us and how we could work this out. We have probably looked into and considered whether everything from atheism to becoming a Quaker was what we should try. At the end of the summer Claire’s children came to the summer club here at Southover which is how we found out about Alpha. Claire said everyone seemed lovely at the church and she was right.

I am honoured to have taken this journey with Claire, my dear dear friend, although I do wonder what our teenage selves sitting in the smokers common room at college would make of it! I’ll be honest I was wary about the course, having heard tales of more extreme Alpha courses but this was perfect. Relaxed, open and inspirational. Everybody was free to talk, Steve’s talks were great and I met some lovely people including the Elliots who are here today. There was nothing weird about these classes, in fact they were an extension of Claire and my pub talks but with people who actually knew what they were talking about.

Over the course I began to realise that all the things that were floating around in my head, my beliefs and personal moral code, were in fact a Christian way of life. My faith solidified, the cogs started turning together rather than all spinning separately. There were several moments where I felts blockages fall away, for example the session on faith. I remember a feeling of great release at the end of this session, that yes I could be myself and still be a Christian. That nothing fundamental to the things I believed was about to change, This was also helped by chats with people away from the church especially Catherine and Sarah whose own faith I greatly admire. I realised it wasn’t about rules but faith about believing that Jesus lived, he was Gods son and he died on the cross for our sins. My heart agreed with my head for the first time and i have never felt happier, calmer and more at ease with the world. Along with my faith I have found at Southover a place of community, living out Christian values in a the most inclusive and welcoming way possible. I am being confirmed today because this is about my relationship with god and I wanted to show a commitment, literally confirm it.